Discrimination experiences of employees with care duties


in the context of pregnancy, parental leave and family caregiving

- Fact sheet on the research project -

Types and extent of discrimination experiences

Across the different periods, a total of 56 percent of parents report having had at least one negative experience in connection with the pregnancy. During this period, significantly more mothers (72 percent) than fathers (44 percent) are affected. Firstly, the experiences described include forms of social degradation: For instance, 29 percent of mothers and 16 percent of fathers experienced being given less credit by their superiors. 25 or 14 percent, respectively, had to suffer disparaging remarks after publicly announcing their pregnancy or approaching parenthood. Secondly, participants report having experienced forms of substantive discrimination, such as promotions that were cancelled or put off (mothers: 26 percent; fathers: 14 percent). Moreover, almost four in ten mothers (39 percent) report having had at least one negative experience during this period in connection with their maternity leave.

When it comes to the application for parental leave, fathers describe negative experiences more often than mothers. When announcing their decision, they more often experience disparaging or negative remarks by their superiors (fathers: 30 percent; mothers: 24 percent). In addition, more fathers (19 percent) than mothers (11 percent) feel pressured into not taking parental leave or reconsidering its duration.

After returning from parental leave, 62 percent of the parents surveyed report having had at least one negative experience in the workplace (mothers: 69 percent; fathers: 48 percent). In this context, the forms of social degradation and substantive discrimination parents have already experienced in their workplace during pregnancy or before the birth of their child continues. Participants were also asked about situations during this period that can be subsumed under the category of non-family-friendly working environments. In this context, parents mainly report that they were not – or not to the desired extent – given the option of flexible working hours (mothers: 30 percent; fathers: 17 percent) and/or working from home/mobile work (mothers: 26 percent; fathers: 20 percent).

Of the caregivers surveyed, a total of 48 percent report at least one negative experience in the workplace, with less significant gender differences than those in the parents' group. When asked about forms of social degradation, a relatively high number of caregivers feels excluded from important information and decisions (women: 18 percent; men: 20 percent). Superiors, who fail to take care duties into account when scheduling meetings, also play a role (women: 16 percent; men: 19 percent). In the area of substantive discrimination, the issues most frequently mentioned were an absence of salary increases (women: 15 percent; men: 17 percent) and a less favourable performance assessment (women: 12 percent; men: 16 percent).

Some parents and caregivers experienced a loss of their workplace in connection with their pregnancy, parental leave or their duties as caregivers to children or family members. This particularly affects those with fixed-term employment contracts. Of the parents among this participant group, almost half of mothers and 15 percent of fathers stated that in one of the periods examined, their employment contract had not been extended or made permanent.

In addition to these questions about experiences in concrete individual situations, the parents and caregivers were also asked whether, in their own view, they felt they had been discriminated against in the workplace: 41 percent of parents (fathers: 31 percent; mothers: 49 percent) and 27 percent of caregivers stated they were discriminated against at least once due to their parenthood or their role as a caregiver to a child or family member. Here, a strong correlation exists between questions about experiences of perceived discrimination and those about individual negative experiences. For instance, approximately two thirds of the parents reporting at least one negative experience state they have already felt discriminated against because of their parenthood and/or pregnancy.

The outcomes of the interviews held with focus groups and experts largely match those of the survey, suggesting a great variety of discrimination experiences in the context of parenthood, pregnancy and caregiving.

Reactions to discrimination experiences

There are significant gender differences in the parents’ reactions to discrimination experiences: While mothers more often turn to friends, acquaintances or family, fathers tend to discuss the matter with their superiors or management, the works or staff council or a trade union. About one in four parents did not do anything.

A similar pattern can be observed for caregivers. However, caregivers turn to a body outside the company more often than parents. Here, too, almost one in four participants did not react at all (23 percent).

Impact of discrimination experiences

Parents and caregivers with discrimination experiences are much more likely than participants without such experiences to report a negative impact on different areas. At least half of the parents with discrimination experiences mention a negative impact on their financial situation, work-life balance and/or their career progression or professional development opportunities. Caregivers mostly describe a negative impact on their health.

In addition, people with discrimination experiences show a significantly lower level of satisfaction than participants without such experiences in all areas covered by the survey. The greatest differences for both parents and caregivers are seen in the areas of the work in general as well as the relationships to superiors or management staff.

Assessment of the corporate culture and support needs

46 percent of parents and 42 percent of caregivers believe that, in their companies, you can only achieve something if you are available for work-related matters even after hours. One in three parents and one in four caregivers fears that those who make use of family-friendly measures are disadvantaged when interesting tasks are assigned. With 39 percent, the proportion of parents stating they currently have no need for further family measures is slightly lower than that of caregivers (46 percent).

When it comes to improving the work-life balance and protecting against discrimination, participants rate increasing the flexibility of working arrangements as their highest priority topic. In addition, most parents (67 percent) and caregivers (54 percent) believe an important step would be to improve the legal protection against discrimination.